More questions on need for level playing

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By Sunday AniSince September 28 when the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) blew the whistle for campaigns, there have been clear moves by some politicians and their supporters to intimidate, oppress and suppress their opponents. Such moves have raised fears and doubts in some quarters that a level playing field might not be possible for all candidates in the buildup to the 2023 elections.The same scenarios have also played out with the October 15 kick off date for the gubernatorial and state House of Assembly election campaigns across the country. State governors have been seen playing gods, and using the instruments of government to muzzle and intimidate opposition parties and candidates.On October 16, the Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, unilaterally announced the shutdown of five broadcast stations in the state with no cogent reason other than that the stations violated the government’s order and journalism practice.But, events later revealed that the five stations, the Nigeria Television Authority, Gusau; Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Pride FM Gusau; Al’Umma TV; Gamji FM and Gamji TV, came under the governor’s hammer because they aired the campaign event of the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on Friday October 15.The thinking in some quarters is that Matawalle was afraid of his opponent in the PDP and he felt that the only way he could contain his perceived rising profile and popularity was to gag the press with a view to eventually denying his opponent access to the platforms to reach out to his supporters.That, in the estimation of many Nigerians, contradicts the principle of fair play, which a level playing field, to a large extent, epitomizes. It is simply denying his opponents the opportunity, which ordinarily should be made available to all the contestants, including himself.When the PDP wanted to have its mega rally for its presidential candidate in Kaduna State, its state chairman, Hassan Hyat, alleged that they were denied the usage of the Ahmadu Bello Stadium by the Federal Government barely 24 hours before the D-day.Hyat noted that all efforts to access a convenient space for the rally proved futile as the APC-led Federal Government through the Minister of Sports allegedly denied the party access to the facility despite applying more than seven days before the event.However, when the rally was finally held in Ranchers Bees Stadium, it was attacked and disrupted by hoodlums suspected to be hired thugs of political opponents. The INEC chairman said the development and the rising mudslinging that have become the order of the day since campaigns kicked off on September 28, had diminished the essence of the peace accord recently signed by the political parties.The Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives, as well as the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, and other well meaning Nigerians, condemned the attack and urged political parties and actors to call their supporters to order.“Parties and their supporters should not by acts of commission or omission further complicate the prevailing security situation in the country. A peaceful electioneering campaign is critical to the conduct of peaceful and credible elections,” the lawmakers stressed.In Nasarawa State, the Labour Party (LP) equally had its own fair share intimidation and oppression when the state government, apart from making it impossible for the party to secure a sizeable place for its teeming supporters, imposed a curfew on the state a night before the event and declared that the state should carry out environmental sanitation exercise, placing restriction on people’s movement till 10am on that day. According to Doyin Okupe, the environmental sanitation exercise was last held in the state about seven years ago, but just to ensure that the LP did not have a smooth rally, the state government suddenly remembered that environmental sanitation was necessary on that day.In Enugu State, the gubernatorial candidate of the LP, Chijioke Edeoga, also had a raw deal with the state’s power when the Enugu State Government allegedly ordered that no public institution in his home town of Eha-Amufu should be used to welcome him during his homecoming by his people. An Anglican Church in the area was said to have eventually volunteered a space where the homecoming ceremony for Edeoga was held.In Lagos, the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP has, several times, accused the state government of denying them the opportunity to use the outdoor advertising agencies to showcase their candidates and programmes by threatening to deal ruthlessly with the agencies if they did not reject business from the PDP.From East to West, South to North, the story is the same; politicians are reportedly employing one tactic or the other to deny their opponents the opportunity that they are constitutionally entitled to just to make sure they are boxed into a disadvantaged corner.However, at every election cycle in Nigeria, there has always been the fear that the ruling party would deploy all the arsenals within its disposal to intimidate, suppress and coerce the personnel of the electoral umpire as well as the security agents, particularly, the police, to gain undue advantage over its opponents during the general elections. There is also the fear of using state powers to deny their opponents access to the state’s facilities for rallies or deny them access to media organisations so that they won’t be able to reach out to their supporters and canvass for new ones.Analysts agree that the fear, surprisingly, does not just exist in the minds of those who express or nurse it; it appears to have characterised almost all election cycles, leading to increased calls from different quarters for the need to have a level playing field for all the political parties and their candidates.Many believe the 2023 presidential election is going to be a complete departure from what has been the political culture since the return of democracy in 1999 and all eyes are on the processes that would eventually midwife the election. From 1999 up to 2019 presidential elections, the contest has always been between two strong or major candidates. In 1999, it was between Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Chief Olu Falae of the All Peoples Party (APP). In 2003, it was between Obasanjo of the PDP and Gen Muhammadu Buhari of the APP which had then transformed to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). In 2007, it was between the late Alhaji Umar Musa Ya’Adua of the PDP and Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). In 2011, it was between Dr. Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and Buhari of CPC. In 2015, it was also between Jonathan and Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In 2019, it was between Buhari of the APC and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP.But in 2023, the political calculus has changed; the contest will no longer be between two strong candidates and others; it will be among three strong candidates, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Mr. Peter Obi of the LP, and others.Close watchers of Nigeria’s political developments are saying that with the emergence of Obi, the call for a level playing field has heightened, considering the fact that his party, the LP, does not control any state or even local government, unlike the PDP and the APC.It is their considered opinion that with the rising profile, the growing popularity, and widening followership base of the LP candidate almost on a daily basis, the APC and the PDP, will stop at nothing to frustrate his effort at recording any victory during the election. And this is where the call for a level playing field becomes important.Nigerians of all classes at home and in the Diaspora would want the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC), to conduct free, fair, credible, rancour-free and violence-free elections in 2023. This, they reasoned, could only be achieved, if all candidates are given equal opportunity to canvas and campaign for votes as well as if no candidate in particular, is given undue advantage over others.The INEC chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, has promised that the Commission would continue to monitor the situation closely and convene a meeting with leaders of political parties to discuss among other issues the imperative of peaceful campaign and equal access to public facilities.He noted that the INEC’s innovation of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), which doubles as a device for accreditation and uploading of the polling unit result sheets to the INEC Result Viewing (IRV) portal in real time on Election Day, is one of the moves by the commission to deliver free, fair and credible elections in 2023.“These innovations have increased transparency and public confidence in the electoral process. The combination of BVAS and IRV portal has come to stay as a means of voter accreditation and transmission of election results,” he added.According to political analysts, the need for a level playing field for all the candidates, irrespective of political party, has become imperative because elections are not only rigged on Election Day. In their opinion, when the process that leads to an election is heavily compromised, either through denial of facilities or spaces to hold campaign rallies, or denial of access to the media or even using the security agents to the advantage of any party, then such action brings to question the credibility of such an election. And the outcome of such an election cannot be said to be free, fair and credible.Contributing to the debate, president of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus, described the trend as a sad development, which only shows that Nigerian politicians have not developed politically.For Dr. Bitrus, it also shows that campaigns are based on sentiments instead of being issues-based. He warned the politicians to be careful and play by the rules in order not to invite the military into the political scene again. He said: “It shows that we have not arrived yet. It is an unfortunate development but we can only appeal to the political class that it serves no purpose if we mess up the whole thing and invite what we ran away from. It was the behaviour of politicians that the military used in the past to get into the political arena and take over power. I think that will serve as a warning to the politicians. They should not waste their time trying to create problems for Nigeria and Nigerians. They should look back to history and see what happened when they didn’t behave well. They should not create an excuse for what all of us are running away from. I think a word is enough for the wise. It is only people who don’t reason that would want to create unnecessary tension and confusion in the polity. We have come this far; there is no going back and the political class needs to know that.”



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